System Thinking Approach to Problem Solution


23 Mar 2015 03 Jan 2018

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System thinking is an important component in the climate system, and plays a key role in diagnosing the organisation by using different methodologies .System thinking is an approach for looking at problems from many angles, looking at the whole problem rather than parts (Jackson 2008). In this assignment the writer will explore A problem issue and use the appropriate methodology to solve the problem.

Problem Situation

Arab National Bank (ANB), a Saudi Joint Stock Company, is one of the top ten banks in the Middle East. Since its inception in mid- 1979, ANB has operated through its 143 local branches, 21 Women's sections and one branch in London, UK since 1991. Arab Bank offers a full range of domestic and international commercial and Islamic products and services to the retail and corporate sectors. The bank also offers consultancy and investment, mutual funds and assets management, local and international equity trading, foreign exchange and treasury services.

They are several principal activities, for example, firstly, retail banking such as deposit, credit and investment products for individuals. Secondly , corporate banking such as loans , deposits and other credit products for corporate, institutional customers, small to medium sized businesses and the Bank's London branch. Finally, treasury banking: manages the bank's trading and investment portfolios and the bank's funding and liquidity, currency, and commission risk. The bank's staff currently has 3, 532 employees, of which 90 % are Saudi Citizens (ANB).

The bank previously achieved significant profits in the absence of real competition and lack of banks and the Public Pension Agency transfers salaries of retirees through ANB, but recently the bank has faced several major problems such as increased staff turnover. Many qualified employees who have several responsibilities in their departments have resigned and gone to other banks. ANB is facing real challenges, particularly the emergence of new competitors with the emergence of new banks after Saudi Arabia joined the World Trade Organization. The new banks such as Al Belad and Al Jazerah are attractive to experienced and skilled employees, because they offer high salaries and a good environment. Also, skilled employees in ANB are working under stressful circumstances; they are working for long hours without motivation. When skilled and knowledgeable employees leave Arab Bank, it is not easy to find alternative employees. This has had a bad effect on ANB's success and growth.


"The essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another" (Lackoff and Johnson, 1980, p 5). For this study metaphors are used to explore and investigate the subsurface of our problem situation. Metaphors are considered as lenses to expose our worldview and creative thinking. They can be used to understand how different organisations work and how managers can transform their way working and recognise the hidden problems in organisations. Morgan (1997) pointed out that the metaphors in his writing are a good example of how to use metaphor in organisations. According to Mutch (2006, p19) "The material on the use of metaphor in organizational analysis suggests a number of approaches. There has been considerable interest in exploring the literary devices that might be used, going beyond the use of metaphor to explore",

Morgan (1986) mentions eight metaphors while Jackson (2003) added from Alvesson and Deetz (1996) a ninth one, as follows:

  • Brain: information processing system and efficiency in solving problem.
  • Flux and transformation: wisdom, attractors, chaos and complexity
  • Culture: Society, values, beliefs, laws, ideology, diversity and history
  • Political system: rights, power, hidden agendas, leaders and conflict management
  • Psychic prison: unconscious processes and workaholics
  • Instrument of domination: discrimination , compliance and charisma
  • Carnivals: minimise order and support creativity.
  • Organism: organizations dealing with their environments, structures and improvement.
  • Machine: efficiency, timeliness, and quality "Is recognised as a technical appearance that has several (often standardised) parts each with a definite function. Much emphasis is placed on the efficiency of the parts. The machine operates in a routine and repetitive fashion and performs predetermined sets of activites, seeking the rational and efficient means of reaching preset goals and objectives" (Flood and Jackson, 1991, p 8).

To explore the above stated problem situation, the writer decided to use the organism metaphor as a dominant metaphor and machine metaphor as a dependent metaphor. Organism is relevant because Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has joined the World Trade Organisation. The writer chose these for two reasons; first, the long history for ANB as a profit company (organization structure); second efficiency of production activities in a machine constituted of interlocking parts (organization efficiency). Thus ANB needs adaptations to a new environment .The organization exist in a competitive global environment where there is strong competition for investment, markets and skilled employees. ANB is a profit company and needs to be flexible and to keep eyes on the market because it needs to maintain market share to achieve its targets. On the other hand, is the system of work in ANB is routine, and like a machine, for example tellers and customer services.

System of System Methodologies (SOSM)

A Complex system is a complicated system that has a large number of subsystems to be operated, and many interactions between the elements. A simple system is a system with clear system with a small number of subsystems to be operated. The operation in the Bank is based on a complicated system with a large numbers of subsystems such as many complex computing and information systems, frequently updated data and financial operations. Employees from the practical and support sides both have diverse views and interests but have the same career expectations (unitary) at ANB. In the writer's opinion, this means the problem situation in the ANB is complex - unitary situation that involves real world performance as illustrated below, a modified version. Jackson and Keys' (1984) suggest that choice of an appropriate system methodology depends on the nature of the problem context. They introduced a matrix, later modified by Jackson to help in classifying contexts. According to system complexity and participants (see figure A1) .



Participants are individuals who participate to achieve common goals, share the same interests or takes part in something. According to Flood and Jackson ( 1991) participants are divided into three groups : First ; unitary ,they share the common interests , have highly compatible values and beliefs , and large agreement upon ends and means. They all participate in decision making. Secondly, Pluralist; they have basic compatibility of interests and their values and beliefs disagree to some extent .They do not necessarily agree upon ends and means but they participate in decision making .They proceed in accordance with decided objectives. Finally, Coercive; they do not share common interests .Their values and beliefs are likely to conflict .They do not agree upon ends and means.


"The word paradigm is now commonly used to refer to something like world view or way of seeing things" (Jackson, 2008, p 37). According to Jackson and Gregory (2008), therefore are four types of paradigm:

The functionalist paradigm: promotes efficiency, effectiveness, survival and adaptation. Related with this paradigm are the 'machine ' , ' organism ' , ' brain ' , and' flux and transformational metaphors .

The interpretive paradigm: helps managers to search for the degree of shared corporate culture in the organization, increasing commitment and superiority in work life. The 'culture 'and 'political' metaphors are related to this paradigm.

The emancipator paradigm: pays attention to discrimination based on class, sex, race, and disability. Related to this paradigm are the 'psychic prison' and 'instruments of domination' metaphors.

The postmodern paradigm: takes a less serious view of organization, believes it is too difficult to understand using any other paradigm, emphasises having fun in the organizations, and that one can learn much by bringing conflict to the organization surface. The metaphor of the 'carnival' is associated with this paradigm.

So I can be seen from these paradigms that the ANB paradigm is functionalist. Having looked at metaphors, system, participants and paradigms, it can be suggested that organism is a dominate and machine the dependant metaphor, organization paradigm is functionalist and the content is complex and unitary. Because the issue as a complex one and as the participants are unitary, it could be said that VSM is the most effective methodology to deal

with this issue because this methodology is characterised as complex-unitary. It is also approach for a situation where the participants are functionalist, whishing to promote efficiency, effectiveness and adaptation. Therefore, it is applicable to proceed to the Viable System Methodology (VSM).


Application of Viable System Methodology (VSM)

"The VSM is used in the process of viable systems diagnosis. The VSM offers solutions to problems of complexity; it remains weak in dealing with pluralism, conflict and coercion. This weakness stems from the ' organism ' and ' brain ' metaphors it employs and the functionalist paradigm it is usually associated with "(Jackson and Gregory, 2008, p 49).

According to Flood and Jackson (1991), The VSM is an arrangement of five functional elements (systems 1-5) that are interconnected through a complex of information and control loops. VSM help self organisation and localised management of problems. Also emphasis is placed on the relationship between the viable unit and the environment. As mentioned above, the model is made up of five systems 1 - 5 which may be categorized as implementation, co-ordination, control, development and policy.


To diagnose problems in VSM it is important that the functions handled by these five systems be effectively performed in all organisations (Jackson and Gregory, 2008). The VSM is shown in the diagram figure B1, with the relevant elements of ANB indicated.

According to Jackson and Gregory (2008):-

System 1 has parts directly connected with implementation, and absorbs much of the environmental variety. In the diagram we can see that the departments are connected with the managers and environment. However, it is clear that there is no co-ordination function with system 2. Also there is no clear feedback to top management, so this is considered to be problem. Under normal circumstances compatible instruction from higher management should ensure that various parts of system 1 act in harmony (Jackson and Gregory, 2008). Actually the function in system 1 tries to act in its own best interests but has only local information to go on .

System 2 is an essential system because, given their self-rule, the parts of system 1 is liable to take uncoordinated decisions. There is no co-ordination in the organisation and system 2 is vacant.

System 3, called the 'audit channel', gives direct access to the circumstances of relationships in the operations. This control position is should be the CEO. It is clear that there is lack of communication between system 1 and 2 with system 3. The responsibility for this matter lies with system 4 for passing a co-ordinated plan down the line to system 1 and giving the negative feedback to CEO.

System 4 is a development function of the organisation and has two tasks. The first task is it switches the orders down to the lower level, then switch responses upwards. The second task is to capture for the organisation all related information about the environment. This is totally neglected in the ANB and there is no connection between the executive committee (Intelligence) and long term environment and there is a weak contact and competition between the short term environment and other departments. There is a lack of information about the external environment or statistics of client satisfaction of ANB does not examine the strong competition between the organisation and others and is not aware of the threats and attractiveness of competitors in the absence of motivation in the organisation. Thus there is no benefit from system 4.

System 5 is responsible for policy and making decisions. In the organisation the internal demands are represented by the commitment of autonomic management but external demands are not represented by system 4 and not taken into account because there is no link between system 4 and the environment.

After diagnosing the problem in VSM, now this problem will be solved by redesigning the problem using the same basic diagram in figure B2.

Board of management - policy


As shown in the diagram (figure B2), in system 1 the departments perform better because the co-ordination function in system 2 is set, Therefore it is performed effectively and the manager of every department keeps in touch with the co-ordination in system 2 . System 2 as a co-ordination function gives the feedback to system 3, then system 3 accesses the information and feeds back to system 4. System 4 now has a link with the environment to capture for the organisation all relevant information about other organisations and transmit the information to other departments. This will supplying the department of human resources in system 1 with the information and resources to motivate staff and retain them in their work to achieve the goals of the organisation.


There are a number of important changes which need to be made and so are some recommendation are listed below:-

  • Redesign the reward system to be equivalent to the competitors.
  • Use motivation and recognition system to keep employees' loyalty to the organisation
  • Set up a process of evaluation to improve the organisation staff.


When VSM is used to diagnose a problem and concentrate on some levels, sometimes, It leads to lack of information on particular individual assistance to achieve the goals for each level. VSM cares about some features of the organization. However Flood and Jackson (1991) point out that VSM neglects the purposeful role of individuals, such as organizational culture, shared responsibility. "VSM does not deal with organizational culture because the statistics will not be an accurate reflection of the true status of the organization, so feedback on performance will be disingenuine" (Tepe and Haslett, 2002, p 520). This methodology is difficult to apply to diagnose in depth the responsibilities of each level. "There may be goals, but they are not fixed and they can take account of the environment" (Flood and Jackson, 1991, p 110).


This essay has argued that VSM is a suitable approach to solve ANB's problem. An implication of this is the possibility that VSM is able to deal with complex situations, even though it neglects some aspects. The VSM revealed that the problem was a weak contact between executive committee and the external environment, and there was no co-ordination , then, necessary changes were identified .These include motivation and keeping in touch with the external environment. Considerably more work will need to be done to determine other aspects of the problem. For example SSM could be better to solve turnover problems. This methodology can be used to develop targeted interventions aimed at diagnosing problem in the organisation.


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